The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Monday that Assistant Professor Cole DeForest was one of the recipients of the 2017 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The prestigious award recognizes teacher-scholars for outstanding research and a dedication to the integration of educational and research activities.
DeForest's project, "User-programmable hydrogel biomaterials to probe and direct 4D stem cell fate" will receive $500,000 over five years from the Biomaterials (BMAT) Program of the NSF Division of Materials Research (DMR).
"Human tissue undergoes constant change. Though such alterations are critical in combating disease, promoting healing, and allowing us to live happy, healthy lives, the specifics of how these changes affect cell behavior remain largely unknown," said DeForest. "We seek to address this knowledge deficiency through the development of biomaterials that can be modified reversibly and on demand with bioactive signaling proteins, thereby mimicking the dynamic biochemical properties of native tissue." These advanced materials will be used to study and direct stem cell function in response to changes in local signaling, providing new insight into disease/healing processes and a clear path towards the engineering of complex 3D tissues.
DeForest also looks forward to creating a multidisciplinary education program involving new laboratory classes and to providing research opportunities for students to learn the fundamentals of polymer chemistry, reaction engineering, and biomaterial science. The award will support the development of open-source biomaterial-based modules in collaboration with local outreach programs that encourage under-represented groups to pursue careers in engineering. Modules will be made freely available online for others to use and help encourage a diverse community of future engineers with a passion for biomaterials. In partnership with the Society for Biomaterials, an inclusive support network will be built for young scientists, further ensuring their lifelong interest and a thriving future for the field of biomaterials.
"In a little over 3 years, Cole has built a highly innovative research program in regenerative medicine, biomolecular engineering, biomaterials and single cell proteomics. I am delighted that NSF recognized his remarkable potential through a CAREER award," said Department Chair François Baneyx.
Cole’s monumental achievement comes on the heels of recent awards in research and education that include the 2017 American Chemical Society PMSE Young Investigator, the 2016 University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award, and the 2015 Jaconette L. Tietze Young Scientist Award.